Home: Square Footage and Debt

Square footage and debt; for well over a year this has been a topic of conversation for us. How do we make our house bigger and more functional while not taking on a lot (or any) debt.  We love our house, but it is not meeting the needs of our family.

I’m not talking about the “wants”, although there are plenty of them, I’m talking about needs. A bedroom for Dimples tops the list. For the past six years, our four daughters have shared one room. With healthy kids, I think this is perfectly acceptable. It’s made even more possible because the bedroom is relatively large with many windows. However, we’ve known for a long time that this was not healthy for Dimples, or her sisters. Before she comes home, she must have a bedroom with a small bathroom – similar to what she has at her school. She is learning skills that we want to duplicate at home, and having her own room will help facilitate that.

Second on the list of needs is a bedroom for Bee.  There was a time when this was essential, and we couldn’t provide it. Having lived for most of her life in an orphanage, she knew how to function in the environment of kids being in charge and adults being of little consequence.  The older ruling over the younger was the story of her life. She is becoming increasingly healthy, but it would still be best if she had her own room.

Beyond that, we get into the list of “Wants“; none are essential, but we would love to have them.  On the top of the list is an office for Russ (rather than the dining room table where his work has to be packed up every night), and secondly, a playroom. Of course, the wants could go on an on – a larger laundry room, a larger dining room, and even a guest room for our adult children who return home to visit. Hannah has done her share of sleeping on the living room sofa.  We want our kids to feel truly welcome and to love coming home.

But here is the challenge, we do our best to live free of debt. You would know this to be true if you looked at our cars – but please don’t. Did I mention that my minivan now has 263,000 miles on it? I should write a letter to Chrysler and thank them for making such a great vehicle. It may not look pretty, but it has faithfully carried us on the highways from Idaho to Seattle, and now to Montana.

The conversation about our house and what we are going to do is revisited on a very regular basis – like daily. We’re tired of thinking about it. This morning we held hands and prayed that God would make a way – that He would show us how we can honor him with our decision. We don’t want to put ourselves into a precarious financial position – Russ works as hard as he can as it is.

We want our home to be a place of warmth and hospitality. I want my children to be healthy and safe.  One day when our kids are stable, I dream of having foster children. These are all good things – so how do we accomplish this?

How do you balance this in your lives? Is living without debt a goal for you? Would making your home safer and easier for your family to function be worth taking on debt? How far would you stretch yourself financially?

I would love your thoughts; will you take a moment to leave a comment?

Lisa

 

 

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

37 Comments

  1. Jennifer Anderson
    March 1, 2013

    We have been in a similar yet different position ourselves with needing to pay for therapies for our boys with autism. It does put us into an amount of debt but a very wise financial planner who is a strong believer told us that we had to make the choices that would help our family thrive..otherwise the amount that it would cost later would be even higher…a small bit of what you are likely seeing now with Dimples having to go to residential. There is no way around it. She needs her own rooom to return to for your family to be healthy and survive and thrive. You and Russ are smart and wise. You will do it in the most efficient way possible. If you have to take on some debt to do it, you will pay it off and I believe God will provide ways to do so and your family will be in a better place.

    Reply
  2. Jessica Ward
    March 1, 2013

    I can't offer much in way of advice, but I can offer empathy–we've been in the same spot–a home schooling family of four with two businesses and two high needs kids in a 1,000 sq foot townhouse.

    I'm currently working towards a real estate license–I'm hoping to keep an eye on the markets, sell the condo and find us a bigger house over time, when there's a deal I can't refuse.

    Reply
  3. Tracey
    March 1, 2013

    Who am I (only one child) to tell you, having raised 12, how to live debt free….I have no idea how I would do it if I had that many children…..but….all I can tell you is what we've done with our lives….

    1. Dave Ramsey course on living debt free.
    2. Only one car loan at a time (and by May that will be paid off too)
    3. Used programs like "same as cash for 2 years" to buy furniture so we didn't have to pay interest.
    4. Drive to our vacations
    5. In the process now of saving for our big move in 2015. We are moving from NM to NH.
    6. Home Equity loan to do major renovations.
    7. Always having a plan when debt has to be incurred on how and when it will be paid off.

    Just a few of the things we do….

    Reply
  4. Aaron
    March 1, 2013

    I applaude the desire to live debt free, and as a rule, that is something that should be strictly adhered to. However, I wold suggest that debt is not the devil. the misuse of debt is what gets us into trouble. This particular case is exactly the kind of thing debt was meant to help.

    My key distinctions for you to think about would be about creating lifestyle versus needed upgrades. If this was about a bigger tv (not that there is anything wrong with that either per se), I would have a different response. But for this case, debt is exactly what you need to make the reality of a smooth tradition home happen. Those are just my thoughts…

    Reply
  5. Leese
    March 1, 2013

    Praying that God gives you wisdom and discernment as you try to balance between needs and wants, and figuring out how that all fits with your desire to be free of debt. Praying that God gives you creativity in finding the best way to balance the financial side with the importance of allowing your home to be a haven and refuge for each of your kids (and others when they come over) as well.

    Reply
  6. Jennifer
    March 1, 2013

    We actually ended up renting for this very reason. We could not (and cannot) afford to buy a house in our city that meets the needs of our family (bedroom arrangements for high impact, healing kids) and our children were triggered all the time in our old home. So we moved two years ago – we ended up selling our smaller house and moving into a rental with the bedroom configuration we need. Doesn't seem to make the most financial sense from an investment standpoint, but makes therapeutic parenting and reducing triggers MUCH more feasible. we haven't regretted it a bit.

    Reply
  7. Emily
    March 1, 2013

    I am praying.

    And your house IS a place of warmth and hospitality. One of the most I know. I love you!!

    Reply
  8. Kelli Hewitt
    March 1, 2013

    We found two homes for give away we are moving to our property. One for an older daughter and one we are attaching to our house. It's a three bedroom rambler with a big living room, which will make an awesome very needed family room, as we had taken our old living room and made into a much needed larger dining area (with a 10 foot home made oak table). Our seven bedrooms just wasn't fitting the bill and we have three more children ready to come home in the next month, which will make 18 in the home. We're leaving the kitchen and putting all our girls out there because I know they will keep it clean. Will side it to match the house. So excited. It's just costing 5000.00 to move it in and a couple thousand for footings and crawl space, and then we will remodel as we can afford.

    Reply
  9. Lori
    March 1, 2013

    For us, having house debt has been the acceptable debt. To have the space we needed to be comfortable and make it inviting to others is important. Like you, we want our adult children to love coming home. It's one of the things I've so enjoyed with Mom and Dad…being able to spend long amounts of time comfortably in their home! I'll be praying that you find peace in whatever decision you come to.
    Love you all!!!! Lori

    Reply
  10. Mary
    March 1, 2013

    We have a pact that we do not take on debt for anything that would not appreciate in value. We pay cash for cars and drive them a long time. When our last car broke, we didn't have money saved up for a replacement yet, so we got a scooter and my husband drives that to and from work on days I need our car. But a home is something we are in debt over and if we needed to, education would fall under that category. Given the investment and returns into your kiddo's lives, it seems like some debt would make sense. But I see your point that you do not want to acquire more than is comfortably handled over time.
    I love the parable of the servants who receive talents from the master. Several invest them and over time, there is a return. One is afraid of his master's response, so he buries it in the ground. And the master is furious! Sometimes I think I am afraid to take the risk of something because if it doesn't turn out, I will look a fool. But I think that is actually burying my talent. Sometimes I need to think long term, not whether adding a foster baby will make me look like a messy mom :), but whether the long term, eternal investment is worth it.

    Reply
  11. Mamitaj
    March 1, 2013

    I tend to agree with Aaron above. This is not consumer debt, and as long as you're not misusing it or over-extending yourself, it's reasonable. I would start by asking if there are any architects and general contractors in your church. (Still check references and check out the kind of work they do, but it's a starting point.) Check into a home equity line of credit. Or can Russ borrow from his 401K? Then you are borrowing from yourself and pay yourself back. You have some strapping young men in the family. If you find someone who will allow you to do some of the work (framing, painting, insulation, roofing, etc.) to save money, that could help. What about an old-fashioned barn-raising? Would your church be up for that? Just throwing out some ideas.

    Reply
  12. Katie
    March 1, 2013

    You know, if you did decide to take on some debt to make your home function for your family, the debt would certainly keep you clear on what is "need" and "want". 🙂

    I know your family is busy and works hard. Unfortunately, all of my suggestions are rather time-intensive, so I don't know if they'll be useful.

    Ways I've seen people keep home-building or -fixing costs down include: serving as your own contractor; doing some work yourselves/with friends' help; bartering for services–maybe you know someone who's an electrician, for example…is there a service you could provide him?

    I looked briefly to see if there are grants available, but government websites overwhelm me, so I had no luck. I think, though, that the effects of Dimple's early trauma might somehow qualify as a disability for the purpose of (hypothetical) grant applications. [A website from the UK lists that a person requiring special facilities, like a separate bedroom, for quality of life, is a "priority three" or low-level but valid medical need. Not sure if that applies here.]

    Finally, maybe your community or church would support you via a fundraiser. I've been to all sorts of spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, garage sales and bake sales that support families in medical crisis, families hoping to adopt, and kids wanting to go on some kind of trip. One fundraiser certainly wouldn't cover an entire addition, but each extra bit helps.

    I wish I had some easy suggestions. I hope you and Russ have clarity and peace as you decide how best to move forward!

    Reply
  13. Alyssa
    March 1, 2013

    How would you feel about asking for donations or doing some kind of fundraiser? I see many families asking for help with adoption costs. People ask for help with mission trips and missionary support– I see this as the same thing. Many people are blessed by your writing/speaking ministry and may be happy to help or to spread the word for you. A lot of people are becoming aware of the adoptions needs and want to help even if they can't adopt themselves.
    If you asked, or put out the word, maybe a contractor or building supply would be willing to donate. I could see a community coming together to help with this– like a small scale extreme home makeover? God is a God of miracles and He will provide for all our needs– His name is Provider and Healer ( God provided a job for my husband just one day after he was laid off this week!!!!!)

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth
      March 1, 2013

      This is a very good idea. Fundraiser what you can from family and friends and then you could borrow the rest from your local credit union. Adding a room and bath on the ground floor should not put you into a huge amount of debt (I hope).

      Reply
  14. Michelle
    March 1, 2013

    You all are constantly in my thoughts and prayers. I am unsure I know many others who are constantly striving to seek God's will in ALL things. Your example continues to be that of a Godly woman, wife and mom. I believe completely in your surrender God will make it so clear to Russ and you. Everything seems like this is something God would only honor based on the need. So thankful for you!

    Reply
  15. jgumm
    March 1, 2013

    In 2007 we paid off our house – the end of 7 year journey to becoming debt free. My mini-van has 155,000 miles on it and my husbands car the same. We are HUGE believers in living debt free. We even did our adoption debt free. Remaining debt free is so important to us.
    That being said, I believe your circumstances fully warrant taking on some wise debt if necessary. As Aaron alluded to, debt is not a sin. The Bible gives us so many warnings about it but, let's face it, 99.9% of the time people are going into debt for the wrong reasons – because of unnecessary wants.
    Obviously the debt has to be something you can handle, and I would advise not in a "barely" kind of way. Keep in mind the unknowns that may happen in the future. And keep praying, I fully believe that God will bring the answer to your problem, whether it's a new property or some creative ways to get the work done that you need in an expensive way. I loved what Kelli is doing. How big is your yard/land? I wonder if some sort of second building could function as the office, guest room and, depending on it's configuration could there be a room or suite that you could rent out to bring income???

    Reply
  16. Anonymous
    March 1, 2013

    I think its wise to tread lightly in this area. Especially when there are lot of expensive medical/therapy bills and such that always seem to pop up.

    Something you could do is figure out how much more your monthly payments (and higher utility bills) would be with a bigger house, and then put the difference per month into a savings account for 6 months or so and see how much that hurts the monthly budget. If you can feel comfortable with that amount less in the budget, then you're good to go.

    Some random thoughts in this area:
    Another option is to find a house that's undesirable for some reason. We got an awesome deal on ours because it is near powerlines. Not the high-voltage ones, but just regular, neighborhood powerlines. I really think it was a gift from God, because there was no way we could have afforded anything that size in our price range. You could talk to a realtor and they can send you weekly emails on houses that fit your parameters. When there is one that stands out for being bigger than normal in that price range, go check it out. This can be a background thing that goes on for months before the right opportunity shows up. Also, be looking during the November/December months. There's not a lot of inventory, but the ones that are listed around then are folks that can't wait until the busy season and might be willing to deal. And be willing to walk away from offers you put in if the seller won't come down enough. Don't get attached to a house until the numbers work.

    God will provide. He always has. That provision might be in the form of a raise, or it might be in the form of a cheaper house that still has the square footage, or really good financing options, or some other totally unpredictable way.

    Reply
  17. thejessicarudder
    March 1, 2013

    Debt is a tool that, when used correctly can be useful.

    If you had an investment guaranteed to make 10% returns and you could borrow money at 4% interest, would it make sense to "go into debt"?

    In this case, the returns wouldn't be financial (per se) but they could still be enormous – being able to live together as a family under one roof, having a living situation that helps Dimples to heal (and keeps the other girls from hurting). As someone above mentioned, making your home a safe place for all involved could actually end up saving money down the road.

    I think as long as you focus on the needs list and you don't spring for the $100/sq ft tile, you would be making a wise investment.

    Of course, I say that as someone that doesn't own a home or a car that socks 40% of her income into savings each month (as I'm terrified of debt – haha). My husband is always counseling me that wise debt is not the same as foolish debt (though my heart just doesn't get it yet).

    In any case, I'm sure that you will get direction from God as to what is right for your family at this point in time.

    For what it's worth, most of the time when I visit home I end up sleeping on the couch. It's not the most comfortable, but, I always feel welcomed and loved because it's home and I have an amazing family. I'm sure your older kids wouldn't mind having a space to stay when they visit, but, sleeping on a couch is not nearly as bad as you might think when that couch is at 'home'.

    Reply
  18. Jo Ann
    March 1, 2013

    I am learning living debt free isn't easy, but in uncertain economic times, it is essential. If you are completely debt free, even except for the house, probably a home equity loan would help you out. But you must be careful that it doesn't exceed a possible drop in value of the home and put it underwater.

    This is an area I would love to see the church rise up and help a family that finds themselves in this type of situation. Not because this family has overspent on frivolities and lives beyond their means (because it is obvious that is not the case), but because it is a way the church can minister to orphans. If you were able to pay for supplies, are there some talented people who would donate some time to get this done (along the lines of Extreme Home Make over). Maybe some supplies would even be donated.

    Reply
  19. Jodi Pizzuto
    March 1, 2013

    Jo Ann's idea is a great one — I know my husband and I (who remodel for a living) would gladly donate time to an family in our area with a need like that. Too bad you live so far away!! 🙂 One thing my husband has done for financial freedom is buy properties (usually from banks) that need some work, we fix them up, and then we rent them out. The properties we're buying are generally in the 10K to 15K price range — and then we need to put a bit more money into them. But we are able to pay for these things up front, and then once they're rented we have monthly cash flow. He has planned ahead for this for a long time, and we're up to 11 rental properties now. This leaves us so that our rental income covers our monthly expenses, and all the work we do on other people's homes can be money saved and invested in other things.

    I also knew of a family who had a number of children, some with disabilities… they had a large room that was shared between a few children as well, but they walled off their separate quarters. It doesn't sound like that would completely solve your problem, though, since you're also looking for an extra bathroom.

    Debt free living is a wonderful thing — and definitely not worth giving up. Prayer — lots of prayer — and perhaps a voice out to your church are great first steps!

    Reply
  20. Sara
    March 1, 2013

    We have been blessed by another and were able to add on a bedroom and bathroom to our home. We likely wouldn't have been able to do it debt free without the beautiful generosity of another. I know it can be difficult to accept financial help from others and especially to ask for help- but I have a very strong feeling that if you were to post a "share here" paypal button on your blog many of us who have been blessed by your courage, honesty, and faith would be delighted to pass on our blessings to you. It would be a gift to know we were able to return a blessing to you that would benefit your family in some way- I know your blog has blessed mine. Sharing with others feels wonderful and even if donations were relatively small it is remarkable how they add up.

    Reply
    1. Mavis
      March 1, 2013

      I agree with Sara! We are in the middle of an adoption and God has overwhelmed us with donations! Some have more to give than others but together they all add up. We would be so happy to support!

      Reply
  21. Sue
    March 1, 2013

    Depending on your current interest rate (if you have a mortgage) it might make sense to refinance at a lower rate and take out enough to make the changes you need. Rates are so low right now that you could get a mortgage if your home is paid off and not suffer to much. Bartering for some construction needs is a great idea. You could use lower end finishes and upgrade in the future as you save to do do. Investment in your home is a good debt.

    Reply
  22. Mary
    March 1, 2013

    I had another thought too–your book! Wouldn't it be neat to see your book provide the rooms you need, or maybe the income you need to pay off the loan that provided the rooms you need?! Praying and thanks for sharing. Reading all of these comments are great and challenging/encouraging to me.
    I loved the ideas that this is a place for the church to step up! Wouldn't that be neat for churches to help in such tangible ways. If I didn't live in Texas, I would bring my brood over to help raise your barn :).

    Reply
  23. Mary Andrews
    March 1, 2013

    Lisa, you belong to a community of marvelous people. You are wonderful. Love, Mom

    Reply
  24. Jennifer P
    March 1, 2013

    We have a similar conversation here. We have looked at houses for two years. We NEED one more bedroom to appropriately accommodate our kids. But paying another 50-100K to get a bigger house with bigger expenses all for the sake of one bedroom doesn't seem prudent or God-honoring. A dilemma that we share in spirit here. Praying that God will show the way.

    Reply
  25. Holley
    March 2, 2013

    I would encourage you to read George Mullers biography, by Janet & Geoff Benge, as a family, and pray through whether this is a moment where God wants to show up, provide and encourage your family. We have had many times as a family where we have had a want that maybe is a need, and we asked that if we were meant to have it, that God would give it to us. This has happened over and over for our family. Just this last week, God miraculously provided something that I wasn't sure if it was a need or want. I was talking with a friend about it, she happened to be sitting in a parking lot outside a store, and as we were talking, a guy walked out of the store, holding the very item over his head, and placed it in the dumpster. My friend grabbed it, it works perfectly, and to God be the glory.

    Reply
  26. nancileamarie
    March 2, 2013

    I think that God gives us money to use for his glory. And sometimes God provides for us through use of "secular money"– to use for his glory. Maybe He wants to provide for your needs through taking out a loan. It is all His anyway! Is it possible to sin by irresponsibly taking on debt? Sure. But I think its also possible to sin against him by pridefully refusing to take on any debt if He is directing you otherwise. Does that make sense?

    I don't think there is always a blanket right answer. Some debt is less expensive than others–ie a loan from a bank is much cheaper than most credit cards. I think it is a conscience issue with some freedom. I'm praying for you, that the Lord will give you peace and clear direction, and that you will be able to step out in faith, which ever direction that is. And remember, too, that God allows us to make mistakes and learn from them. So even if you make a big mistake in whatever you decide, trust Him that His grace will be there on the other side, and He will use it and teach you from it.

    Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul….Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
    (Psalm 143:8-10 ESV)

    Reply
  27. daysofwonderandgrace
    March 2, 2013

    Lisa,

    We live free of consumer debt and had paid off our mortgage. But as Joy grew older and we began looking at how to modify our house to accommodate her wheelchair and other needs, we realized it could not be done with our four-level split house plan without as big an investment in remodeling as we originally paid for our house. Even then, it would be strange house –suited to her needs, but in a way that would make it very difficult to sell someday. We decided it was wiser, in our case, to move into a floor plan that could be modified in a way that would increase the value of the house. We've done that and are now paying a mortgage again, which I don't love. But God has provided so we could afford the first phase of necessary remodeling out of savings and investments. The cost of the next phase, we hope, will be split between our savings and a state program that in some cases helps families complete home modifications. (I'd think Dimples' county SW might be able to advise you about that.) Since Joy will grow up, but likely never live independently, we view it is an investment in the long-term well-being of our family. A side benefit of the move has been being able to give Hope her own bedroom, and that, in a very good place vs. her siblings. That's been wonderful for all.

    Reply
  28. Kayla
    March 2, 2013

    While I completely appreciate Dave Ramsey and other people who are trying to get people to look at stewardship through a debt free, God driven perspective, I think sometimes that message gets oversimplified to "you must live debt free in order to honor God." I agree with the others that debt is not a sin. It is when our debt swallows us, when our debt becomes an idol, when our debt indicates a heart that is not worshiping God, that's when the issues start cropping up. By the same measure, living debt free can become an idol as well, a way to be in control, a way to avoid doing what we ought to do because we fear debt. Right now, interest rates are incredibly low. Taking out a home equity loan, refinancing your current home, taking out a home improvement loan, etc. actually makes a lot of financial sense right now. In terms of a house, there is a good chance that any improvements you will make will add value to your home and in the end actually be an investment that returns dollars back to you at some point later. (Especially when those improvements can be done with a loan that probably will be at a crazy low interest rate.) That is not foolish debt; that is wise, investing that like many investments, begins with debt.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 2, 2013

      Kayla, thanks for the wise words. Being "debt free" can become a point of pride for some people, and then, like you said, it is an idol just like anything else. I've been amazed at the encouraging comments from everyone.

      Reply
      1. Jodi Pizzuto
        March 3, 2013

        There are different kinds of debt. Were it a sin to go into debt at all, ever, how would young couples ever start out? You get married, you rent for a while, you save a down payment and then you buy a house — but to do that without ever going into mortgage debt… wow. That would be beyond impressive for the average person. I think, too, that there's a distinction to be made between "living with debt" and "living foolishly."

        Reply
  29. courtneycassada
    March 2, 2013

    lisa – you have to be SO encouraged by these comments! i agree with so many of them. walk forward. God will provide. you are both so very wise. i am praying!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 2, 2013

      I am encouraged, Courtney. I so admire the people who read my blog – lots of wise folks.

      Reply
  30. Kelly
    March 2, 2013

    We just had to make a similar decision. A year ago I had just had our third son and we were living in a home with just two bedrooms. This would have been fine if all our kids were healthy and attached but we were realizing that our older son really needed a room of his own in order to keep everyone safe and healthy. At the time we found a house that was perfect for our needs, even ones we didn't realize we had yet. I believe God has really used our house to help our family heal. Thinking back over the last year, I don't think we'd be in as good of a place if we were still in our other home. It did take us several months to be able to sell our other house which was stressful but I think God knew our needs at the time and protected us. All that to say, I'm not sure I'm recommending going into more debt, but God knows your needs and loves your family very much and I know he will provide. He wants your family to be healed and whole and he can provide whatever it takes to make that happen.

    Reply
  31. Bramfam
    March 4, 2013

    Lisa…. Consider asking for help. Many like myself only know you through your blog but would be willing to help:)

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 4, 2013

      I'm considering it, in a squeamish sort of way. Maybe Isaiah could design a nice "donate" blog graphic for me when he is home…

      Reply

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